Criticism—Yes, It Can Hurt

Once a writer’s work is published it is out there—and at the mercy of the critics. Reviews are what help spread the word about their writing, but the simple fact is that not everyone is going to like it—or at least be glowing with praise. Of course, one would hope they would, but people have different likes and tastes, and so they will find certain things they like—and don’t like—about a particular work. A writer puts hours—years—of passion and hard work into it, and to have it criticized—yes, it can make a writer feel low.

I know. People have posted reviews of Mystical Greenwood over the past three years. Most, I’m happy to say, have enjoyed it. But there have been aspects about it that weren’t to their taste. For example, some thought the language was still too flowery, or didn’t like the alternating points of view, or had trouble connecting to the characters, or felt I didn’t do enough showing not telling in regard to characters’ emotions, and typos. It has been discouraging for me. But at the same time I’ve noticed some aspects of the story and how it was told were disliked by some but praised by others. While the dislikes certainly have stung, it demonstrates how people have different opinions, and, as a writer, one can’t please everyone.

Criticism should never be deliberately insulting or hurtful. Constructive criticism helps writers become better by encouraging them rather than insulting them. It was one of the founding points I included when I started my own critique group years ago. But there have been reviews of books that were harshly negative. Edgar Allan Poe was nicknamed the “Tomahawk Man” because when he reviewed something (or someone) he didn’t like, he was absolutely brutal and unrepentant towards the author and their work. But it’s also been observed that many critics in his time would be positive no matter what, and some even took bribes in exchange for giving glowing reviews. Poe, on the other hand, was honest, and most of those he heavily criticized aren’t as well known today.

It goes to show if not everyone is glowing with praise, there’s a plus side: your work is being taken seriously. Books that have been heavily criticized have endured, becoming literary classics. Several were banned for one reason or another, but that has become a badge of honor for many books, many of which were revolutionary for their times and for literature. And writers mustn’t forget about constructive criticism: they can see what could have been done better. Writers can take that (gradually, of course) to become better at their craft. So while it is difficult to get over criticism, it is possible. It may initially hurt, but a writer can rise up again and become better. Writers should never stop believing in themselves and their writing. And in my case, with Mystical Greenwood no one has yet to give it two stars or one, so that’s a good sign.

Further Reading
  1. Kayla Ann. Responding to Criticism.
  2. Zikra, Nour. Will Negative Book Reviews Hurt Me? Writing Advice.

32 thoughts on “Criticism—Yes, It Can Hurt

  1. Since readers use book reviews to decide whether to buy a particular book, I wonder if there are articles providing readers with suggestions for evaluating the validity of book reviews. Not all reviews are created equal by a long shot.

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  4. Hi Andrew Criticism can be hurtful and some people write negative reviews that just make no sense. For example, they complain the book was to expensive or got damaged during delivery. On the whole, I try not to take my reviews, good or bad, to seriously. Writing is an undertaking that you continue to improve at and learn about your whole life. I do my best to learn and improve and I write stories that are meaningful for me. If others like them, I am delighted, and if not, then I accept that.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for sharing the benefits of getting both good and bad book reviews, Andrew. Didn’t realize that about Poe. Guess we authors all have special tastes. All the best!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I appreciate valid criticism from someone who can explain their reasoning and points. But mean-spirited critics who offer nothing but insults aren’t worth reading. Their writing has no meaning for me, no matter whose work they’re “evaluating.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well done, Andrew, at processing this and explaining it so well. I am one of those who really enjoyed your book, and the language, and am looking forward to the next. The fact that you have yet to ‘attract’ a one or two star review is actually excellent! I get pretty sick of hearing about typos as a criticism, but it is valid. Of course, it does depend on how many crop up to interfere with the reading. I have had to go back into both of my books to fix remaining ones that I just hadn’t spotted. It is galling, but at least you can do something about it. What you can’t do anything about is whether someone takes to your book or not, and my negative reviews have taught me this – our books will find the right readers, and they will be the readers we imagined when we were in the midst of writing. Dealing with criticism? I decided it was an inevitable writer’s rite of passage, just like rejection letters from mainstream publishers too. Main thing is to keep learning and crafting and enjoying our writing :>)

    Liked by 1 person

    • All this is so true, Andrew. Recently, I was interview for a Podcast that was all about receiving notes from editors. I realized that when we worked together at JMWW, I wasn’t that kind to my writers. I was in edit mode, zip, zip, zip, focused solely on what was not working, what needed to be improved. I gave very few “Good” remarks. My operating principle was that if it was working, I didn’t pay attention beyond. “That’s working.” Now I see how I could have been more constructive, more generous..

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  9. Where criticism is solely negative, it has no value. Whilst it’s tough to ignore, that’s the only real option. Anything positive or constructive can be embraced – very late congratulations on writing and publishing your book!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Excellent article, that is very true. When we release our work we open it up to (hopefully) honest criticism though there are sadly still revenge reviews and sock puppet accounts who leave harsh reviews to damage a “competitor”.

    Critical feedback is important and while it can sting when we get low reviews it does have the effect of giving credence to be book. If all a book gets are 5 stars it is seen both by the platform and many readers that there may be fake/bought reviews.

    After all, every author gets negative reviews, all our favourite authors will have not been to the taste of someone else. So we push on, writing what we love, for ourselves and throwing it out into the world beyond to become someone’s favourite.

    Liked by 1 person

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